In secret ballot elections held late Thursday, Afghanistan’s national assemblyÑthe loya jirgaÑselected current interim leader Hamid Karzai as the next head of state, serving until the 2004 elections. Karzai emerged with 1,295 of the more than 1,500 votes cast. Female physician Massouda Jalal finished as runner-up with 171 votes, despite efforts by Defense Minister Marshal Fahim to undermine her candidacy by calling it un-Islamic. Jalal had gathered 160 signatures, 10 more than required from a nearly 90 percent male delegation to be on the ballot.
In elections early Thursday morning, Professor Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar was elected as chairman of the loya jirga. Current interim women’s affairs minister Sima Samar was appointed as first deputy chair of proceedings of the loya jirga. After a long day wrought by arguments and complaints, several delegates expressed appreciation and excitement about the loya jirga experience. According to Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai, senior adviser to Mr. Karzai, the loya jirga “is an exercise in voice the people of Afghanistan are acquiring voice for the first time in 23 years.” H. Aktar Mohammed, an ethnic Pashtun from Ghazni province added: “It’s the first time ever in our history that we are witnessing such a situation. I like watching the people line up to vote.”